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Former Missouri Speaker Tilley among major Republicans aiding Dooley's re-election bid

Charlie Dooley
Provided by Mr. Dooley

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - Former state House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, and prominent St. Louis businessman Doug Albrecht were among the top Republicans who headlined an event in Clayton on Thursday to raise money for St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, a Democrat under siege from some within his own party.

The early-evening fundraiser was held at JBucks, a restaurant just blocks from the county government center.

Tilley, now a lobbyist, said in an interview Friday that he was supporting Dooley because he believed that the county executive has done a good job on the economic front for the county.

As majority leader and speaker, Tilley said he also had found Dooley to be “thoughtful, honest, reasonable to work with” on a variety of issues affecting St. Louis County, despite their political party differences.

“I’m honored to call him my friend,’’ Tilley added.

But Tilley acknowledged that the gathering also sends signals that “a lot of us on the Republican side think Charlie’s done a good job, and … there’s no need to go out and find somebody to run against him.”

Three months before filing begins, no big-name Republican has yet to announce plans to challenge Dooley, who has been in office since late 2003. St. Louis County Republican leaders, however, have emphasized that they will work to oust Dooley.

However, he already is facing a strong challenge from one of his party's own: County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, who already has the backing of some major union leaders and County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch, influential among some Democrats.

For almost three weeks, Stenger’s campaign has been daily calling attention to a Missouri Ethics Commissionfiling of a new campaign donation of more than $5,000, most of them from the building-trade unions.

So far, the only announced GOP rival is Green Park Alderman Tony Pousosa, who made an unsuccessful bid in 2012 to oust Stenger from the County Council.

Tilley made a point of saying that Thursday’s event was aimed at highlighting Dooley’s “crossover appeal’’ and shouldn’t be used to imply that Dooley doesn’t have Democratic support.

Dooley does plan to roll out his own bloc of major Democratic backers at his kickoff event slated for early December, including U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.

However, Thursday’s event is yet another example of the Dooley campaign’s effort to line up Republican allies as well, particularly business leaders. About six weeks ago, retired Washington University chancellor Bill Danforth and former McDonnell-Douglas Corp. chief John McDonnell cohosted a fundraising event for Dooley.

Some of the support may be tied to the talks now underway for some sort of city/county merger, or city re-entry into the county, which has been embraced by some of the region's biggest business groups -- many of which are made up of Republicans.  Dooley has been somewhat supportive, while emphasizing that public votes would be needed.

His major backers already include financier Rex Sinquefield, who generally backs Republicans but has been donating to Dooley for years, citing their mutual support for regionalism.

Some of the GOP business support also may signal an acknowledgement that St. Louis County -- once a bastion of Republican votes -- is now reliably Democratic, because of population shifts over the last 20 years. Dooley's success in winning re-election in 2010, amid an otherwise huge Republican wave statewide and nationally, have added to that perception.

His campaign's aim in openly wooing Republicans may be two-fold: to dissuade any major GOP effort to line up a prominent Republican challenger and possibly to encourage Republicans to cross over and cast a Democratic ballot in next August’s Democratic primary.

Missouri doesn’t have voter registration by party, and crossover voting has occasionally played a key role in some primaries for both major parties over the years. In St. Louis, GOP crossover voting has been a practice for years in the city primaries because the citywide Republican Party presence is weak.

That effort may work both ways. Stenger has long portrayed himself as a conservative to moderate Democrat, with his council district long considered the most politically competitive in St. Louis County. Stenger's predecessor had been a Republican.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.